Pattern Language Purpose & Intentions: Why Are We Doing This?
Why a Pattern Language for Group Conversation?
We live in a social world. Every action taken that involves more than one person arises from conversation that generates, coordinates, and reflects those actions. At best, those group actions serve the well-being of the whole: not just the whole of a particular organization, but the whole of life. However, as we well know, many group actions are not life-serving. They are disconnected, existing in a fantasy in which, by analogy, it's as if they imagine it is possible for the cells in one's stomach to work against the interest of the cells in one's heart, without thereby acting against their own interest as well.
Because these group actions, destructive and constructive both, arise from group conversations, those conversations become a potential leverage point for anyone looking to shift the system. People who convene formal group conversations — facilitators, meeting planners, et al. — are particularly well placed to make a difference, and thus we carry an ethical responsibility. We can support processes that empower people, or processes that prevent them from taking charge of their own lives. We can plan meetings that are genuinely open as to outcome, or let ourselves be co-opted by the powers that be as tools of manipulation. We can spread skills for solid group process as deeply and broadly as possible, or we can hoard knowledge. Basically, group conversations have power--and the people involved with this project believe that power should be shared . . . and that sharing power in this way serves life.
In the past several decades, the fields of group facilitation and organizational development have blossomed with dozens (if not hundreds) of processes. There is tremendous possibility here. Yet both newcomers and seasoned hands tend to find the profusion overwhelming — as with many areas of human knowledge in this time, we are awash in a flood of information. How to sort through all this to find what's needed? So we end up with situations where a group hears about, or has one good experience with, a particular approach (for example, Open Space), and then tries to apply that to whatever the next situation is, regardless of whether or not it's actually the right fit.
Furthermore, no one can learn every process, nor can many organizations in need afford to hire outside professionals every time or at all. The need is great, while the reservoir of facilitators and event designers who are deeply skilled is sorely limited. Thus this call for a sharing of knowledge that goes beyond any one method or the amassed collection of methods, to the deeper core of what brings a group conversation alive. Each of us has experienced moments in meetings when we sense "the magic in the middle," or whatever you want to call it--now is the time to bring that wisdom together.
Our Goals Include:
- To support Purpose-driven design. Form should follow function. The most important part of any meeting planning is to get clear on why you are having the meeting. That choice drives all subsequent choices for that event.
- To deepen the skills of those who serve as group process guides, leaders, hosts, and facilitators. To assist with their learning in how to do design. To help them choose among many possible processes to create something that will be the best possible fit for their situation at a given time.
Here is another analogy: Last year Tree moved into a house that needed a lot of repainting inside. Whenever she needed a new color, she went to the hardware store. Then Jen moved in. Jen is a professional artist. Tree can hand her any paint chip, and Jen can mix up a batch of that color using random cans of paint she has lying around her studio from past projects. Tree might not be able to mix colors at all, or perhaps she can take yellow and blue and make green--Jen has a palette of infinite variation available to choose from, with the personal knowledge of how to create each color.
What we want to do with this project is to help people who only know one method of group conversation to learn more, and people who know multiple methods to be able to dance among them, even to blend them improvisationally as needs arise in the moment, inventing new processes as you go.
- To serve as a resource for those who are teaching others to design, lead, facilitate group process.
- To increase process literacy among people who are users of process(es)--which is all of us. Our world needs us to wake up and get more savvy about this.
The deeper purpose here is transformation, or an increased ability to consciously co-evolve towards greater wholeness — health, wholesomeness, fit, sustainability, beauty, harmony, etc. In the same way that Alexander's building language aimed at empowering everyone to co-design the spaces they inhabit, we aim at a shift from most people being passive consumers of process to more people experiencing the possibility of group conversations that are truly alive. As Bea Briggs puts it:
What if we saw meetings — understood as gatherings to discuss issues of shared importance and to make collective decisions — as a basic human need, like food, sleep or sex? What if meetings were treated not as a boring obligation, but as essential for survival? What if meetings connected us to our psychic depths, to our local community, and to the great mystery? What if meetings reminded us of what is sacred, of what must be treasured and protected? How would meetings be different if we saw them as an opportunity to educate, guide, nourish and heal ourselves? What if we entered into meetings with passion, reverence, and a sense that our participation was of vital importance?
How might things be different? What is possible now?